Bernardo Daddi, Polyptych of San Pancranzio
Tempera on wood
Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy
Provenance: Church of San Pancranzio, Florence
Like other Madonnas of the early 14th century, Daddi's portrait of the child makes important departures from the formalism of the past. Like a natural child, the baby reaches for the stalk of lilies in his mother's hand while looking to her as if for approval, and he wears age-appropriate clothing. As in some of Simone Martini's Madonnas of the 1320s, his left hand holds a goldfinch. The bird and the lilies have their symbolic values, but these do not diminish the strong impression that one is looking at a fully human baby.
In other respects the work is formal and traditional. The Virgin is seated on a throne surrounded by angels and saints, six portraits flank the central panel, and gold is ubiquitous. The six saints are (left to right)
St. Zenobius, the third bishop of Florence, identified by the gallery's label and by the context. As in some other portraits, his beard is short and square. His portrait corresponds to the one on the far right of St. Reparata, another of Florence's secondary patrons.
In the middle of the left side is St. Nereus, identified by the gallery label but without any attributes other than the martyr's palm branch. This portrait corresponds to that of his companion St. Achilleus on the right side, who like him is pictured as a young man in what was thought to be the clothing of classical times. The two do not have a special relationship to the city of Florence, but they share they same May 12 feast day as St. Pancras, the patron of the church for which this polyptych was created.
St. John the Evangelist, again identified only by the gallery label. The book in his hand could be a reference to the Johannine books in the New Testament.
First on the right side is St. John the Baptist, patron saint of the city of Florence, in his usual camel-skin tunic and holding a staff topped by an unusual two-barred cross.
St. Achilleus, with palm branch and walking staff. He and St. Nereus are remembered in an unusually full-bodied entry in the Roman Martyrology for May 12: "At Rome on the Via Ardeatina, [the feast day] of the holy martyrs Nereus and Achilleus, brothers, who were eunuchs of Flavia Domitilla and shared her long exile for Christ on the island of Pontia. Afterwards they were beaten with rods. Then the consul Minutius Rufus had them tortured on the rack and burned to death, but they declared that they had been baptized by the blessed apostle Peter and would never sacrifice to the idols, so they were beheaded. Their holy relics and those of Flavia Domatilla were rediscovered and restored in their ancient church in the deaconry [section of Rome] of St. Adrian and were solemnly translated on May 11 at the command of Pope Clement VIII, who decreed that thenceforth this day should [also] be the feast of Blessed Domitilla, whose passion is remembered on the seventh of this month."
St. Reparata. Please see our separate page explaining this portrait.
Above these six panels are twelve small portraits of the apostles. The predella features events in the life of the Virgin Mary: Joachim espelled from the temple, Joachim in the country with his sheep, Joachim and Anne at the Golden Gate, birth of Mary, Mary enters Temple service, blank, Annunciation, Nativity.
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Read more about the Madonna and Child.
Photographed at the Uffizi by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.